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Students as Partners Toolkit


SaP Myth Busting (and Getting Your Colleagues on Board!)

Susan Vickery and Wendy Radcliffe

There are many myths when it comes to student partnership. Some of these can be blockers to staff getting started, but they aren’t all as true or complex as you might think! In fact, many of the myths of student partnership can be overcome through simple steps, clear communication and outlining the goals and benefits.  

See how you can bust some common SaP myths below.


1. Student won’t be interested or won’t commit.

Identify the carrot to motivate student engagement. For example, links to employability, skill development, participation points, leadership credits, remuneration, opportunity to directly improve services, testimonials from their peers.

If students feel that they will be remunerated or develop further skills and capabilities that will see value in participating as a student partner.

2. Students don’t have the expertise to understand library business and learning pedagogy. We should be talking to academics instead.

Remember, students are not experts in library business or pedagogy, but they are experts in their own lived experiences!

If your project is positioning the student as a mentor or expert in library business or pedagogy, this may be a sign that you are incorrectly positioning the student partner in their role. Ask yourself, based on what I expect the student to do, are they able to harness their lived experiences to provide ideas and suggestions?

Also, throughout the process, ensure that library staff support ideas from students by explaining jargon and capturing the perspective being offered by our student partners – they are the reason why we do what we do!

3. How can a small group of student partners know what every student wants? What about all the other students?

Students can’t represent all of their peers, that’s impossible! But what they can do is tell their story, and through that story, you can consider how similar barriers or themes might be experienced by other students. Essentially, it’s your job to listen to student partners and then apply that knowledge to serve a greater number of students. 

It can be helpful to share with colleagues some scenarios or examples of “ah ha” moments where the student learning process or approach brought a different perspective to the librarian learning process.  

4. It costs too much (staff time as well as paying of students).

An investment of staff time in the ongoing improvement of library services and resources is a commitment to the future of the library.

Student partners don’t always have to be paid. There are lots of other ways to incentivise participation, such as offers of professional development and recognition of participation for students (see our next section). Further, just because a student is paid, for example a student casual, that doesn’t mean they are a partner. Partnership is about the relationship between students and staff, not whether the student is paid. 

5. My manager won’t support me working on something different. They say student partnership is not my core business.

Advocating for the inclusion of the practice may need to be undertaken using a pitch to the top. The advocacy pitch should outline the what, why and how as well as outlining the mutual benefits for all involved in the project.

Support from the top then leads to building a culture where taking risks and trying new approaches becomes the new normal. Embedding the practice becomes “new ways of working” and staff accept, engage and endorse this approach.

6. We are already doing student partnership or we have already tried this!

Have you recently checked how well you understand the current student partnership literature? Take the time to clarify your definition and read about the developments in this space. For example, student partnership is not:

  • Fly-in-fly-out / one-shot UX testing
  • Employing students in Library positions
  • Peer mentor or peer learning advisory

7. Student partnership will take too much time. It is too hard!

Look for opportunities where you can work with other departments within the university to collaborate on student partner initiatives. This approach can share the workload and open up new opportunities for students. 

Rather than starting from scratch, try to use existing toolkits and templates, and tap into established networks and communities of practice similarly interested in student partnership.

8. Student partnership is not part of my job.  

Even if your job isn’t student-facing, all library services and resources must be user-centred.  Reach out to others in the library who may engage with students more frequently and see if you can work on a project or initiative together. There is still so much we can learn from students that can inform our ways of working in unexpected ways.